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Book Cover to Mission 66 Visitor Centers. With image of Dinosaur NM Visitor Center, view from beneath ramp


Table of Contentss




Wright Brothers


Pertified Forest

Rocky Mountain

Cecil Doty



Appendix I

Appendix II

Appendix III

Appendix IV

Mission 66 Visitor Centers
Chapter 1
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A Shelter for the Quarry

In 1909 Earl Douglass discovered an amazing deposit of fossilized dinosaur bones in the remote and arid northeastern corner of Utah. Douglass, a paleontologist from the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, established a camp at the site from which to begin excavating the valuable remains. Over the next few decades entire skeletons were removed and sent to museums throughout the country—approximately 700,000 pounds of fossilized bones to the Carnegie alone. These prodigious discoveries led President Woodrow Wilson to proclaim Dinosaur a national monument in 1915. About this time, Douglass envisioned a museum exhibit with "the skeletons which had been unearthed . . . mounted in relief on one side of the paleontological hall of the museum in the position in which they had been found." [8] A few years later, he preferred "a stately edifice in which there should be assembled plaster-casts of the dinosaurs which we have extracted from the spot." [9] Finally, in 1924, Douglass wrote what might easily have been preliminary instructions for the architects of Quarry Visitor Center:

The uncovered area should be housed to protect the specimens and provide shelter for sight-seers and students. The north side would be a natural wall, of course, with the skeletons in place. The south side would probably be a natural wall also but the ends would have to be built and a roof with ample sky lights would cover the whole. The extra space and the walls could be utilized for many other exhibits from this most interesting geological and paleontological region. [10]

If Douglass was the driving force behind the visitor center concept, public servants in higher places had more influence over construction within the monument. George Otis Smith, Director of the U. S. Geological Survey, expressed his preference for an in situ exhibit as early as 1916, and by 1923 Secretary of the Interior Herbert Work imagined a similar situation and encouraged the Smithsonian to take on the project. Evidently, local residents believed that a building at the Quarry was eminent. The board of the Vernal Chamber of Commerce estimated that a shelter featuring a roof with three skylights and end walls of native rock would cost about $5,000. Although Work was unable to obtain approval for his scheme, he did attract the attention of Director Cammerer and members of the scientific community. Cammerer expressed concern over the amount of labor necessary to reveal exhibit bones and feared incurring additional expenses. Nevertheless, in 1924, Congressman Colton of Vernal introduced Bill 9064 to the 68th Congress in an effort "to properly house for its protection the Dinosaur National Monument." [11] Congress shelved the bill, but Colton continued to fight for a protective shelter.

Meanwhile, Cammerer focused on finding an academic institution to resume excavations in partnership with the park. Dr. Case of the University of Michigan Geology Museum, a group active in excavating the site, hesitated to reveal fossils that might deteriorate when exposed to the elements. Financial support was a problem for the university as well, and in 1925 Cammerer decided to halt excavation until something could be done to protect the bones. Finally, in 1930, the American Museum of Natural History in New York bargained with the Park Service for rights to fossilized remains in exchange for developing a public exhibit. Museum excavators would be allowed to remove any full skeletons they unearthed. The Depression ended hopes of building a museum in the early 1930s. However, a federal relief project resuscitated the excavation efforts in 1933, promising twenty workers. Even after the removal of funding in the spring of the next year, work continued under the Transient Relief Service of Utah. A temporary structure for the paleontologists, which also served as a museum, was constructed on the site in 1936. [12]

The relief work primarily involved "overburden removal," but as this task was accomplished the Park Service began planning for a new museum. Ned J. Burns, chief of the museum division, warned that "the building must be erected as soon as possible after this work has advanced to a stage where the fossils are located and enough exposed for identification." Not only did Burns anticipate potentially damaging water seepage, but also several features of the building. He thought the structure housing the in situ exhibit should be "entirely functional with ornamental treatment reduced to a minimum." The balcony opposite the rock face would allow visitors to observe excavation. In closing, Burns noted that "an in situ exhibit of the size contemplated will . . . achieve international fame," but warned the Park Service to obtain the necessary funds before beginning construction. [13]

Burns may have been referring to a preliminary design for a museum produced in January 1937, and, remarkably, the early proposal most similar to the Quarry Visitor Center. The project assumed collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History, the chief architect of WODC, and the director of the Park Service. Unlike successive designs of the 1940s, this scheme contains a circular foyer, apparently of concrete, which acts as a hinge linking the Quarry exhibit area with an optional office wing. The narrow museum building includes a library and curatorial office on the first floor, and stairs adjacent the foyer and at the far end of the museum lead up to a second-floor balcony space, enabling visitors to circulate without backtracking. In elevation, the building is simple and streamlined, with only a random stone facade as ornamentation. Its strip clerestory windows, flat roofs, and use of geometric forms is more characteristic of Mission 66 than the rustic architecture typical of the Park Service in the 1930s. [14]

Interest in the Quarry area appears to have increased in 1938, probably because the enlargement of the monument from eighty acres to three hundred and twenty-five square miles brought attention and financial support to the area. [15] Signs were installed on Route 40. In his inspection of the monument, Assistant Chief of the Naturalist Division H. E. Rothrock reported on the prospect of further excavation in the quarry: "This work cannot be undertaken until the plans and the exact location of the building which is to house the exhibit have been completed. These plans await the excavation of the fossil bed because the location of the building and its general design will depend upon the location, condition, and abundance of the fossil material which exists in the bone layer." [16] If funding for the building had been an obstacle in the past, it must have seemed impossible during World War II. Nevertheless, in April 1944, the Park Service produced two alternatives for museums in the Quarry area.

The preliminary sketch for a museum, designated 3-B as if in relation to the 1937 proposal, shows a more elaborate facility with a less modern appearance. The main exhibit room is a 60- by 160-foot rectangle composed of an in situ exhibit on the north side and exhibit cases or dioramas on the south underneath a second-story viewing balcony. Visitors traversed a winding path up the rock (and adjacent the road) to reach the main entrance to the building, entered a lobby with restrooms, viewed the quarry face, walked downstairs to the exhibit room, and then exited through a vaulted loggia on the first floor which also served as a truck entrance. The laboratory and preparation room was located in a one-story side wing jutting out from the front of the building, and additional offices were on the second floor of part of this wing. The building had a random stone facade and terraces but no significant ornament. [17]

A third museum proposal (drawing 3-C) wedged the building between the in situ quarry and the southern canyon wall, with a slightly undulating stairway providing access to the exhibit room, a second-floor mezzanine, and third-floor balcony. Offices were on the south side of the building and on the second floor. An optional skylight was included in the section, along with triple-height side windows. The general plan of the building qualifies it as an ancestor of the future Quarry Visitor Center, as does the basic circulation pattern. A quick glance at the elevation ends the comparison, however, as it is a massive three-tiered structure with vaguely Spanish details. One feature of note is the boulder-lined path that follows the entrance road up to the second-floor roof terrace.

Fortunately, the Park Service's financial situation did not lend itself to such an elaborate Quarry complex. [18] A temporary shelter was more realistic, and by 1951 plans were approved for a utilitarian structure resembling a warehouse or farm building. The north wall of the building consisted of the quarry face itself and a corrugated sheet metal shed roof protected paleontologists and visitors alike. Four equally spaced windows in the south wall above the entrance and one on the east side let light into the museum. The lowest construction bid was offered by Bus Hatch, a native Vernal "river man" who had guided boatloads of tourists through the canyons during the preservation effort. [19] Although a rather primitive wooden structure, this early museum was a precedent in situ shelter serving the required protective function. The new Quarry Visitor Center would not only borrow its method of bringing the site to the visitor, but also its utilitarian quality updated to showcase modern materials and modern scientific efforts. Whether or not the contract architects examined the temporary shelter is unknown, but Park Service designers were certainly influenced by the building.

Mission 66 brought new hope of fulfilling promises for the Quarry area development envisioned twenty years earlier. Park staff met with members of the regional office and the WODC for three days in May 1955 to discuss upcoming construction projects. The group agreed to push for immediate preparation of preliminary drawings for the "Quarry Museum" and construction as soon as funds were available. Among those attending the meeting were Lyle E. Bennett and Robert G. Hall, both of whom probably contributed their design expertise to the committee's building description.

The building is to be designed with a length of approximately 180 feet, covering a general area of the quarry as located on the ground. The building is to have a balcony on the south wall at a height which will give the visitor the best possible view of the quarry face and the in situ exhibit. Entrance and normal visitor exit of the building would be at the balcony level near the center of the south wall. The circulation pattern within the building is to provide for visitors traveling from the balcony to the ground floor for a closer view of the in situ exhibit and other related exhibits planned for installation under the balcony and elsewhere in the building. [20]

By March 1956, the Park Service announced that funds allocated for Mission 66 improvements at Dinosaur totaled $615,899. [21] According to Director Wirth, the money would be used for roads, a new $275,000 visitor center, employee housing, and water and sewer facilities. [22] In May, just a month before hiring contract architects, the park produced a "comment sketch" for a modern visitor center. [23]This drawing shows a two-story building with an upstairs lobby and spectator's balcony. The lower floor housed offices and work rooms arranged en suite and a visitor gallery, probably intended for exhibits. Visitor access to the building was from a broad stairway running parallel to the offices. No comments or elevations were included in the sketch. At this point, the park must have been seeking a private architectural firm for help in designing the building. By mid-summer, work had begun on a guard rail at Harpers Corner, parking lots, and concrete channel crossings. Bidding began on water and sewage improvements and grading the residential housing in the quarry area. [24] Over the winter, Park Naturalist John Good envisioned the improved situation at the site, which would allow visitors to "whisk up a paved road to the quarry instead of walking up the hot, dusty trail that has been used for so many years." [25] If a paved road seemed such a luxury, Good could hardly have imagined the imminent transformation of the quarry from a temporary camp into a modern laboratory and visitor center.

In preparation for the new building, the Park Service removed facilities constructed during the 1930s. The museum section of the old headquarters was "cut from the naturalist's quarters portion and skidded across a narrow bridge and placed at its new location about a mile from its original site," an achievement "deemed impossible." [26] The park went to great lengths to replicate the quarry exhibit by installing a temporary contact station at Neilson Draw and building a trail up to in situ interpretation at Dinosaur Ledge. Fossilized backbones and large leg bones were exposed in the ledge area, and a ranger naturalist stationed at the site simulated excavation. [27] Throughout the construction, park personnel and local boosters described every step of progress in anticipation of a visitor center "distinctly different in design from anything at present constructed in other national parks." Park interpreters were optimistic that the new facility would finally provide an appropriate setting for modern paleontological research. For the next several years, visitors would witness actual excavation by professional paleontologists. This demonstration would be supplemented by a series of "exhibits, explaining what dinosaurs are, the world they lived in, the geological events following their death, discovery and working the quarry, and methods of preparing specimens." The visitor center would include laboratory facilities, such as a "preparation room for work on the bones, a technical library, storage space for study of collections, and a fully equipped darkroom." [28]

CONTINUED continued



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